I am not a Steiner teacher or parent; I was not Steiner educated and have never worked in a Steiner School. However, along with my UWE colleagues Philip and Glenys Woods, I was commissioned by the then New Labour government Department for Education and Skills to undertake comprehensive research into the UK Steiner Schools. My main task for that project was to visit the schools, observe lessons, staff meetings and other activities, and talk to the children and teachers. It was a most enlightening and enriching period during which barriers were broken down and mutual respect earned. That was indeed the aim of the then New Labour Government.
Values behind the actions
Why should someone with no background in Steiner education be given the task to research it and bring it to the attention of government and mainstream education? One answer would be "objectivity and critical detachment". But our bid to undertake this work succeeded because the following important values underpinned our approach
Freedom and personal responsibility
Music and the arts
The inner or "spiritual" life
Child development and flourishing
The natural environment and the world
Steiner education has not been without its critics over the years. Some find the "spiritual" or anthroposophical foundation difficult. A recent article in the Independent was highly critical of Steiner's ideas on the evolution of race. As we found in our research, much depends on how the teachers interpret anthroposophy in the twenty-first century. Schools vary considerably in the matter of governance, which was certainly an issue for the integration of Steiner principles into mainstream education. However, maintained schools vary considerably in quality and parents can sometimes be highly critical of them too. It is my personal view that any coherent system that offers an alternative to endless testing even of very young children and a narrow curriculum that pays scant attention to music and the arts or modern foreign languages has something important to offer. The publications below offer the fairest and most objective assessment we were able to put together.
Steiner Schools in England. DES Research Report 645, with P. Woods and G.Woods. Nottingham: DfES publications. (2005)
Here's what you must think about nuclear power: grappling with the spiritual ground of children's judgement inside and outside Steiner Waldorf education, International Journal of Children's Spirituality, 13 (1) 66 - 74. (2008)
Education for Freedom: the goal of Steiner Waldorf Schools. In P. Woods and G. Woods (eds) Alternative Education for the 21st Century: Philosophies, approaches, visions. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. (2009)